The only word that can adequately describe the Panthers 2016 season is “disaster.” After falling to the Broncos in Super Bowl 50, the Panthers were a hot pick for another deep playoff run and championship contention. Many expected the return of Kelvin Benjamin, who missed all of 2015 with a torn ACL, to make the team even more dangerous. Instead, they followed a 15-1 record in 2015 with a 6-10 finish in 2016.
No team in the NFL experience as dramatic a decline. Reigning NFL MVP Cam Newton had career lows in nearly every statistical category, and the offense dropped from 8th in DVOA to 25th. The team lost star cornerback Josh Norman when they removed the franchise tag after contract extension talks broke down. The defense dropped from 2nd in DVOA to 10th. Point differential fell from 1st in 2015 to 25th in 2016. The Panthers were the only team in NFL history to go 15–1 and miss the playoffs the following year. The only silver lining: they lost six games by a field goal or less.
The Panthers front office responded to their disappointing season with an uncharacteristically heavy approach to free agency. The team opted for defensive experience in signing 15-year NFL veteran Julius Peppers, 13-year vet SS Mike Adams (who started his career with the 49ers from 2004-2006), and 8-year vet CB Captain Munnerlyn. They also added Left Tackle Matt Kalil with a 5 year/$55M contract. Pro Football Focus gave the signing an “F” but was kinder in grading the other additions. Most importantly, they avoided a repeat of the Josh Norman situation when franchise tagged Kawann Short signed a 5 year contract extension.
Round 1, Pick 8 (8): Christian McCaffrey - RB - Stanford
Round 2, Pick 8 (40): Curtis Samuel - WR - Ohio St.
Round 2, Pick 32 (64): Taylor Moton - OG - Western Michigan
Round 3, Pick 13 (77): Daeshon Hall - DE - Texas A&M
Round 5, Pick 8 (152): Corn Elder - CB - Miami
Round 6, Pick 8 (192): Alex Armah - FB - West Georgia
Round 7, Pick 15 (233): Harrison Butker - K - Georgia Tech
Reviews of the Panthers draft class have been largely positive, with most analysts loving the additions of playmakers McCaffrey and Samuel. Both should be big weapons to help Cam Newton and the offense rebound. Moton and Hall could both contribute in their rookie seasons, but it will be interesting to see what kind of impact this group will have in Week 1.
Entirely too early prediction time:
49ers WIN! Final score: 49ers 24 Panthers 19
The 49ers haven’t lost in Week 1 since 2010, and are 12-4 in season openers since 2001. Regardless of how bad the team has been over that stretch, they strangely find a way to win in Week 1. The 2017 Panthers are an impossible team to gauge. Anything in between their 6-10 2016 finish and their 15-1 record in 2015 is possible. This prediction is based on nothing rational, but somehow the 49ers will steal another Week 1 victory!
Week 1: vs. Carolina Panthers - W
Week 2: @ Seattle Seahawks
Week 3: vs. Los Angeles Rams
Week 4: @ Arizona Cardinals
Week 5: @ Indianapolis Colts
Week 6: @ Washington
Week 7: vs. Dallas Cowboys
Week 8: @ Philadelphia Eagles
Week 9: vs. Arizona Cardinals
Week 10: vs. New York Giants
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: vs. Seattle Seahawks
Week 13: @ Chicago Bears
Week 14: @ Houston Texans
Week 15: vs. Tennessee Titans
Week 16: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 17: @ Los Angeles Rams